The Philadelphia Historical Commission added the childhood home of Roy “Campy” Campanella at 1538 Kerbaugh Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places during its monthly meeting on January 12. Campanella, a Hall of Fame catcher who helped break the color barrier in professional American baseball, lived there from 1928 until he left to join the Negro League, later joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. He returned for visits until 1988, when the family sold the property. The Historical Commission also voted in favor of designating three other historic sites.
The Louis G. Groh Building at 5131-37 Walnut Street was built in 1929 and designed by architect Harry Gordon McMurtrie. The steel and masonry commercial structure has many Art Deco characteristics, which satisfied Criteria C and D.
Nominations of three bank buildings were also presented, each with differing responses. South Philadelphia State Bank at 915-17 S. 11th Street was built in 1919 and served a clientele of largely Italian immigrants, according to the nomination authored by Bella Vista Neighbors, with the current owner amenable to designation. The Historical Commission found that it satisfied Criterion C, as an example of early 20th century bank design inspired by Romanesque and Classical styles, and Criterion J, as exemplifying the cultural and economic heritage of the community.
The nomination of the Beneficial Savings Fund Society, South Philadelphia Branch at 2037 S. Broad Street received a different reception. It was built in 1928 during an era when several of the large Center City banks established branches further afield to meet growing populations in different neighborhoods. Designed by the architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer, the project was likely overseen by African American architect Julian Abele, who was the chief of design of the firm at that time. The nomination claimed, and the Historical Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation found, the building’s Classical Revival style satisfies Criteria C and D, and it also meets Criterion E, as an example of the work of an architect who significantly influenced the historical development of the city.
An attorney representing the building’s owner contested the nomination by pointing out that it did not conclusively prove that Abele had been the architect, and disputing Criteria C and D, said it lacked certain characteristics of the style. He also introduced a real estate expert who said designation would create an undue hardship by restricting possible usages for the building.
In response, Commissioner Emily Cooperman, an architectural and landscape architecture historian explained, “The designation of ‘architect’ does not mean a single person. Architecture is a group endeavor,” hence the work of the Trumbauer firm would qualify for Criterion E. She pointed out that the characteristics of particular architectural styles and eras are not concretely set. “There’s no rulebook for Classical Revival,” she added.
Responding to the hardship comments, Commission Chair Bob Thomas explained that the Historical Commission has a committee that hears cases of financial hardship and it is not part of the designation process. “You can’t claim a financial hardship due to historic designation if a building is not historically designated.” In a roll call vote, the Commission unanimously voted to approve the nomination.
The final bank building nomination was for the American Trust, Loan, and Guaranteed Investment Company at 684-86 N. Broad Street. Built in 1890 by the architectural firm Baker and Dallett, its Richardsonian Romanesque style satisfies Criterion D. It also satisfies Criterion H, as a familiar visual feature of the neighborhood at the intersection of North Broad Street, Ridge Avenue, and Fairmount Avenue and Criterion J, representing the North Philadelphia Gilded Age and subsequent adaptive reuse over time as North Broad Street changed into an automobile-centric corridor.
A representative of the owner at first spoke in opposition to the designation, but also indicated an interest in preserving the building and requested a continuance to allow for time to explore funding and support opportunities that historic designation might provide. The Historical Commission approved a continuance to its February meeting.
Several cases from the Architectural Committee, which reviews requests for alterations to historically designated properties, were also heard. These included the approval of the construction of a five-story rooftop addition to the Philadelphia Warehousing & Cold Storage Company building at 500 Christopher Columbus Boulevard, which had been added to the register in 2021.
The Historical Commission denied a plan to construct a four-story residential building on a parcel that had been subdivided from the Joseph Gorgas House at 6901 Germantown Avenue. Built in 1798, it was added to the local register in 1957. With the parcel now bearing the address of 6915 Germantown Avenue and currently a parking lot, an attorney for the owner urged the Historical Commission to consider its lack of historic context. Commissioners and public comments objected to the massing of the building and the stark features of its design, saying it was not in keeping with the character of Germantown’s main thoroughfare.